Oregon’s Willamette Valley is a well-established and well-respected wine region with a ton to offer visitors. Stretching from Portland in the north to Eugene in the south, this 150-mile-long area is best known for its pinot noir.
But besides all its viticultural attractions — including more than 600 wineries — there are many other things to do in this picturesque and laid-back region. And after a recent press trip to the area, I have lots to share.
From hiking amidst waterfalls to exploring charming small towns and everything in between, here are eight things to do in the Willamette Valley besides wine tasting.
1. Relax At The Allison Inn & Spa
The only four-star resort in the area, The Allison Inn & Spa in Newberg should not be missed. This sprawling complex, set on 35 acres, features an outdoor sculpture garden, a farm-to-table restaurant, 77 guest rooms, eight suites, and a full spa. Guests can enjoy services including manicures, pedicures, facials, and massages.
Some treatments are inspired by the beautiful atmosphere of the Pacific Northwest. These include the Grapeseed Cure body treatment with its grapeskin scrub and the Deep Forest Escape body treatment featuring juniper and pine body oils. Whatever you choose, The Allison will not disappoint.
Pro Tip: The aforementioned Deep Forest Escape option even comes with its own Pacific Northwest-scented candle.
2. Drink Beer With Benedictine Monks
While the Willamette Valley is known for its wine, the area offers plenty of great beer options as well.
The Benedictine monks of Mount Angel Abbey have been growing hops on their land since the 1880s. According to their website, “St. Benedict envisioned monasteries as self-sufficient communities. In consequence, the Benedictines of the Middle Ages brewed in their own facilities, with their own labor, using ingredients grown on their own farms.”
The modern Oregonian monks continue this tradition with their own brewery and tap room, Benedictine Brewery. Try the cleverly named Black Habit Dark Ale or the St. Benedict Farmhouse Ale. Outside food (like a picnic) is allowed to be brought in, but small appetizer plates are available for purchase at the taproom. Visitors will enjoy the refreshing quiet of the taproom without background music, an intentional choice by the reverent monks.
Oregon is known for its craft beer scene, so there are plenty of other area breweries that visitors should explore. One of these is Ninkasi in Eugene, which is named for the Sumerian goddess of the sun. The Oatis Oatmeal Stout is great during winter, while the Brightberry Raspberry Lime Ale shines in warmer seasons. Other favorites include the Pacific Rain Northwest Pale Ale, the Heart & Science West Coast IPA, and seasonal Oktoberfest releases.
Salem’s Santiam Brewing serves up British vibes in its brewery and pub. The full kitchen offers pub fare like Scotch eggs, Welsh rarebit, fish and chips, shepherd’s pie, and more. And with at least 15 beers and ciders on tap — including my favorite, the Bavarian-style Edelweiss — Santiam is sure to quench your thirst.
3. Take A Scenic Drive
Another great option in the Willamette Valley is simply to drive around the area. After all, Oregon has more scenic byways and tour routes than any other state.
One gorgeous example is the Silver Falls Tour Route, a 55-mile, 2-to-3-hour journey that offers mountain views, waterfall vistas, and miles of densely blanketed forest.
Another choice is the Over the Rivers & Through the Woods Scenic Byway. This is a 2-to-3-hour trip that covers more than 60 miles from the Willamette Valley east to the West Cascade Range.
Intrepid travelers can plot their own path through the 150-mile scenic valley.
4. Explore Aviation History
Located just outside of McMinnville is the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum. Its mission is “To Inspire and Educate, To Promote and Preserve Aviation and Space History, [and] To Honor the Patriotic Service of Our Veterans.” Multiple eateries, a 3-D movie theater, a museum store, and tons of exhibits mean that guests can spend a full day here.
Be sure to visit Howard Hughes’s famous Spruce Goose and take a ride in the flight simulator!
5. Eat Your Way Through The Valley
The Willamette Valley is home to numerous noteworthy restaurants, so you won’t go hungry during your time there.
Tina’s in Dundee was one of the first fine-dining restaurants in the area. Dinner is served nightly with a focus on sustainably produced, local foods. While the menu changes with the seasons, try the fried Brussels sprouts, pan-seared scallops, and goat cheese souffle if they are available.
Another winner is McMinnville’s Thistle. With a speakeasy-like bar next door, this spot boasts an ever-changing menu displayed on a small chalkboard near the front. I enjoyed my winter squash and wild rice dish, while my dining companion loved her oyster starter and duckling, sunchoke, and brown butter main dish.
With a chef that hails from Milan, Newburg’s Rosmarino Osteria Italiana brings the cuisine of Northern Italy to Oregon. Cooking classes are available at this spot as well as fun promotions like Sunday’s Gnocchi and Pizza Day. Consider the fennel, octopus, and orange appetizer or the Bolognese pasta.
6. Indulge Your Green Thumb
There are plenty of beautiful gardens and agriculture-focused attractions in the Willamette Valley.
Check out the Oregon Garden, with more than 80 acres to explore near the small town of Silverton. The site features a sensory garden, pet-friendly garden, children’s garden, rose garden, and more.
Oregon State University’s Peavy Arboretum offers walking and hiking paths plus an exploratory tour among the trees.
Finally, Dundee’s idyllic Pollinate Flowers hosts garden tours led by the charming owners. They’ve transformed a patch of barren farmland into a small slice of paradise using the garden as a regenerative ecosystem. While Pollinate is mostly known for its fresh floral arrangements, herbs and produce are also grown on-site.
One spot that’s especially beautiful between March and May during the Wooden Shoe Tulip Fest is the Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm. With a name that hearkens back to its Dutch roots, this spot in Woodburn is one of the largest tulip farms in the Pacific Northwest.
7. Hike Among The Waterfalls
Did you know that there are more than 238 waterfalls in the state of Oregon? Luckily for travelers to the Willamette Valley, some of these scenic spots can be found in the area.
Perhaps the best way to experience the majesty of the falls is by visiting the crown jewel of the Oregon state parks system, Silver Falls State Park. Not only is it the state’s largest state park, but Silver Falls allows visitors to hike behind the famed South Falls waterfall as part of the 7.2-mile Trail of Ten Falls hiking route.
Additional activities available at the park include camping, horseback riding, and numerous other hiking trails.
8. Experience The Art Scene
The Willamette Valley offers several art museums that provide a cultured break from the area’s wine-related experiences.
The Hallie Ford Museum of Art at Willamette University in Salem is the third-largest art museum in the state and features a mix of permanent galleries and special exhibits. There’s always something new at this Pacific Northwest-focused museum.
Another area gem is the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at the University of Oregon in Eugene. This organization focuses on Asian art and has a very impressive collection from Korea, China, Japan, and more; it’s also the only academic art museum in the state that is accredited by the American Alliance of Museums.
Finally, there’s a Mid-Willamette Valley Art Trail that visitors can explore.
It’s clear that the world-class wine region of the Willamette Valley serves much more than vino. With its delicious cuisine, numerous museums, and fancy spa retreat, this Oregon jewel deserves attention from every type of traveler.
Have even more time to spend in the area? See what TravelAwaits experts have to say about the Beaver State.